Crusaders back their discipline

The days of when a knuckle sandwich could send a lightning bolt through the brain of a belligerent oaf are long gone, but Scott Robertson indicated his Crusaders won't be bullied on Sunday evening.

Memories of the way the Waratahs used bruisers like Will Skelton and Tolu Latu to poke, niggle and provoke - illegally and otherwise - the Crusaders when they last visited Sydney haven't been forgotten.

Neither they should be. Watching the Waratahs forwards steam into the Crusaders in 2015, and you have to admit the city boys really did give the men from New Zealand the big V, made for painful viewing.

Skelton and Latu got into strife with the judiciary afterwards, but the damage had already been done: the Waratahs won 32-22, their wide-boy act enabling them to intimidate the visitors and stuff their Super Rugby title chances.

Well, this next bit of the story won't be a surprise. The Crusaders haven't forgotten what happened that day, and they appear determined to stand-up to any nasty stuff, while keeping their fists, elbows or anything else that can create some damage, tucked away.

When asked about the Waratahs' overbearing attitude in 2015, Crusaders coach Robertson said no-one was going to pretend it never happened.

"Well, it worked last time. So we have covered it off," he said. "We understand that teams can try and put you off your game, so we have put a bit of time in to make sure that we keep calm.

"Our skipper has done a great job of that so far."

Captain Sam Whitelock, one of the Crusaders most consistent performers this year, was one of those targeted when Skelton and Latu up-ended him in with a dangerous tip tackle at Allianz Stadium.

Yet Robertson expects Whitelock to ensure his players remain calm if provoked, indicating they had addressed the need for self-restraint after Jordan Taufua almost cost them a win when he lost his rag against the Reds in the round three match on March 11.

"We learned a great lesson as a team from what happened," Robertson acknowledged. "He crossed the line, and got punished. We will be better for it."

Robertson has made four positional changes to his forward pack following the 45-17 win over the Force in Christchurch last weekend. Joe Moody returns to loosehead prop, Scott Barrett transfers to lock to allow Taufua to resume his duties at No 6 and Whetu Douglas, having been spelled last week, is back at No 8.

Midfielder Jack Goodhue is still carrying a leg injury. He along with All Blacks No 8 Kieran Read and wing/midfielder Seta Tamanivalu, and first five-eighth Richie Mo'unga, should be available to play the Sunwolves after next weekend's bye.

Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has been unable to select first-five Bernard Foley because of concussion, so in comes rookie Mack Mason.

Robertson analysed Mason's play when he coached the NZ under-20 side, and was impressed by his attitude and ability. He is sure to send some giants down his corridor, but is warning no-one should expect Mason to crumble.

Injuries have also forced Gibson to shift tall power-runner Israel Folau to centre, putting the spotlight on the defence of the Crusaders midfield of Ryan Crotty and Tim Bateman.

While the Crusaders are alert to the Waratahs ability to score from counter-attacks, they cooked-up an unlikely win over the Rebels last weekend, the conditions may force a contest between the two packs.

Wet weather and several NRL fixtures on the ground could produce a heavy track.

Then there will be the scrum battle. Last week the Crusaders had to endure multiple re-sets against the Force, forcing the players and spectators to gnaw their sleeves with frustration.

"We have taken total ownership, we have to be better," Robertson maintained. "We have to make sure what we do we get right. And the rest is up to the ref."

Crusaders: David Havili, Digby Ioane, Tim Bateman, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Mitchell Hunt, Mitchell Drummond, Whetu Douglas, Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock (captain), Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett, Michael Alaalatoa, Luke Romano, Pete Samu, Bryn Hall, Marty McKenzie, Manasa Mataele.

Waratahs: Cam Clark, Reece Robinson, Israel Folau, David Horwitz, Andrew Kellaway, Mack Mason, Jake Gordon, Jed Holloway, Michael Hooper, Ned Hanigan, Will Skelton, Dean Mumm, Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Tom Robertson. Reserves: Damien Fitzpatrick, Paddy Ryan, David Lolohea, David McDuling, Michael Wells, Nick Phipps, Irae Simone, Taqele Naiyaravoro.

Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen

Kickoff: Sunday, 6.05pm


Photo By: GETTY IMAGES (No 8 Whetu Douglas returns to the Crusaders' starting XV for their Super Rugby match against the Waratahs in Sydney on Sunday night).